Following the M5 incident in 2011 and many meetings with both the Coroner and various Government departments we agreed to highlight some of the potential issues surrounding the generation of firework smoke and fog – particularly in the run up to the November 5th period.
Firstly, however, it is important to appreciate that the Coroner found that firework smoke was not to blame for the tragic accident on the M5 near Taunton, but he did state that it could not be ruled out as a contributory factor.
In conditions of very high humidity it is possible that smoke from any source can trigger and contribute to the production of a dense fog.
This possibility should form part of the overall site and product specific risk assessment at any display but particularly when:-
- The location is near to a river or other source of high humidity (eg dew)
- When certain wind directions could carry smoke towards a road
- There is little wind to disperse fog or smoke
The Coroner recommended that all display sites should have some means of assessing the wind strength and direction and had means to stop the display if smoke became a serious issue. As part of the risk assessment process therefore we recommend that you consider:-
- Whether the site and the display have the potential to impact on local roads should the conditions become foggy
- What cancellation or curtailment criteria are appropriate for the display – and that all parties understand and “sign up” to these
- How the wind strength and direction can be assessed – this could be from local measurements and/or from local sources
- Whether the site merits “spotters” to be able to report back to the firers if smoke becomes an issue
- How the information will be communicated to the firing team
- How the emergency services (usually through the Police) might be alerted and by whom in case smoke and/or fog threatens a nearby road
The UK has an excellent safety record for professionally fired displays, and no-one wants to see displays cancelled or not commissioned because of the M5 accident. The consideration of the effects of firework smoke in a sensible and proportionate risk assessment, taking into consideration all the above factors, is the best way (alongside training) to prevent any similar occurrence in the future.
The BPA firers and senior firers qualifications now include a section on the effects of smoke, and we recommend that your firing teams are brought up to date with this new section before the time of their next renewal of their qualification. A special short presentation is available on the BPA website titled smoke issues click here